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Finding Equilibrium | LJ Best Magazines 2011

By Steve Black

The market for magazines has been challenging and volatile for years and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Yet 2011 saw relatively fewer failed magazines and significant corporate mergers. According to MediaFinder.com, 239 magazines were launched in 2011 vs. 193 in 2010, and 152 magazines folded vs. 176 in 2010. Notable closures last year include Fresh Home and GamePro. Compared with the 2010 end of U.S. News & World Report, these are fairly low-profile failures. The most noteworthy corporatewide action was publisher 944 Media’s closure of its regional lifestyle magazines.

Publishers seem to be finding a new equilibrium between print and online content. According to the annual Fact Book from the Association of Magazine Media (MPA), formerly Magazine Publishers of America, 87 percent of those interested in reading magazines on a digital device still want a printed copy. This year’s best new launches are all available in print.

One sign of less volatility is the success of the ten magazines chosen in last year’s Best Magazines feature (LJ 5/1/11). As of March 2011, seven were still publishing on their stated schedule. Cooking Wild is behind schedule but accepting subscriptions, and Twisted South‘s website is active even though the print magazine has ceased. Holmes: The Magazine To Make It Right published its last issue in December. Seeing one magazine fold, one fall behind schedule, and one convert to online-only is a typical failure rate for new launches. Despite slow economic recovery and continued stiff competition from online media, the magazine business continues to chug along via the power of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Finding a niche

A time-tested strategy for magazine publishing is to target a well-defined niche audience. Examples this year include magazines for readers interested in gay poetry (Assaracus), Revolutionary-era reenactment (Journal of the Early Americas), and extreme sports (Red Bulletin). Targeting a defined niche can help reduce the significant financial commitment needed to market and distribute a general interest magazine.

Literary magazines that seek a broad audience rarely have the resources for mass marketing, so publishers must hope to gain attention through whatever means possible. It’s always a gamble whether they can find enough subscribers to pay the bills, but good luck to the excellent Coffin Factory, Toad Suck Review, and Elsie.

In trying budgetary times, there are two reasons libraries should bother with new magazines. The first is to keep collections fresh and appealing to a variety of patrons. The second is to maintain the library as a place for readers to come across original works that might otherwise escape their notice. Discovering new magazines requires some work, especially since many publishers of newly launched periodicals have limited means of promotion and distribution.

A good source of information on literary magazines is Newpages.com, the self-described Portal of Independents. It reviews literary and independent magazines, including whatever new launches come to the editors’ attention. For popular magazines, Samir Mr. Magazine Husni has returned after a brief hiatus with his monthly listing of new titles at launchmonitor.wordpress.com.

And here is LJ‘s annual selection of the ten best new magazines launched in 2011.

Assaracus. q. $50. Ed: Bryan Borland.

Alexander, AR, might not immediately spring to mind as a center for gay poetry, but the independent Sibling Rivalry Press is publishing well-wrought, challenging literature that provides deep insight into the broad range of emotional experiences of being gay. In publishing outlaw artistic talent from gay male poets of any background or level of publication experience, this journal is a valuable contribution to contemporary poetry.

Boom: A Journal of California. q. $136 print+online. Eds: Carolyn de la Peña & Louis Warren.

One in eight Americans lives in California, a state with an economy larger than Canada’s. Boom presents an engaging and visually attractive forum for scholars and artists to describe some of California’s remarkable stories. It brings history and social sciences to life with readable scholarship that will not only please scholars and entertain general readers but also interest patrons well beyond California’s borders.

Coffin Factory. 3/yr. $21. Eds: Laura Isaacman & Randy Rosenthal.

This magazine for people who love books distinguishes itself in the quality of its short fiction and illustrations. New works by mostly established writers include many in translation, giving Coffin Factory a distinctly international vibe. Many of the illustrations are depictions of new works currently on display in a gallery. All this gives Coffin Factory a classy freshness sure to be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates contemporary arts and literature.

Elsie. a. £10. Ed: Les Jones.

It’s a bit risky to select the creation of one individual as one of the best new magazines of the year, but Jones’s wit, artistic eye, and insight make Elsie a unique treasure. The love and creativity he pours into this quirky magazine is impressive. Every beautifully printed issue features a few personal touches, like the hand-drawn catalog card he wrote on the random message page of the LJ review copy. Elsie will be a freshly distinctive addition to any library’s collection of works on the creative arts.

HGTV Magazine. 7/yr. $20 for 10 issues. Ed: Sara Peterson.

Do we really need another magazine in the crowded shelter category? Fans of the HGTV network and folks who enjoy a breezy, visually appealing display of the latest trends for home and garden will say yes to this one. Hearst Corporation’s publishing expertise ensures a consistent product that caters to readers’ desires. The content in HGTV Magazine is distinct from information at hgtv.com, so subscribers are not simply getting a print version of what they could read online. The wide range of topics tend more to decoration than to repairs and improvement. The target audience seems to be women, but HGTV Magazine should appeal to anyone desiring an attractive home in tune with the latest trends.

Journal of the Civil War Era. q. $60. Ed: William Blair.

University of North Carolina Press has teamed with Penn State’s Civil War Era Center to publish a scholarly journal on the worldwide context within which the Civil War was fought. Both academics and amateur history buffs will appreciate the meticulous yet accessible research articles and book reviews on a phase of American history that continues to fascinate. Especially for scholars is a regular Professional Notes section addressing trends in the work life of historians. Although the target audience of Journal of the Civil War Era is professional historians, the breadth of topics and accessibility of writing make it appealing to general readers.

Journal of the Early Americas. bi-m. $30. Ed: Casey Criswell.

The title suggests this is a scholarly journal, but Journal of the Early Americas is actually for a popular audience of the discerning history-enthusiast and re-enactor portraying 1521 to 1848. The articles are research based (complete with endnotes), but color illustrations and a lack of jargon create a magazine well suited to general readers interested in history. Because of the focus on reenactment, there is a large dose of information about clothing, food, tools, and folkways. Journal of the Early Americas expertly portrays the lives of Native Americans and the many immigrants who came to America. A fair portion of articles address military life or campaigns, but the magazine covers topics beyond military reenactment.

Northeast Flavor. q. $12. Ed: Jean Kerr.

Part travel, part cooking, and part lifestyle publication, the appropriately titled Northeast Flavor provides an appealing and vividly colorful tour through many paths to enjoying New England foods. It has features on expected topics like maple syrup, cranberries, lobster bakes, and dairy farms, but much content is less predictable, such as recipes for beets, healthier meatloaf, and New England strawberries. The recipes, accessible to casual cooks, should also appeal to foodies. A natural choice for libraries in the Northeast, it’s appropriate for food lovers everywhere.

Red Bulletin. m. $29.95. Editor in Chief: Robert Sperl; U.S. Ed: Andreas Tzortzis.

You may wonder why a magazine sponsored by Red Bull energy drink is one of the best of 2011. This almost independent monthly magazine is surprisingly appealing to anyone with a shred of curiosity about extreme sports. Libraries wishing to expand holdings for this magazine’s target audience of teenagers and twentysomethings would do well to add Red Bulletin. Vicarious thrill is this magazine’s reason to be. Better to read in the safety of the library about flying in a winged suit than to dive off the closest cliff, right?

Toad Suck Review. a. $15. Ed: Mark Spitzer.

Toad Suck Review is a reincarnation of now-retired Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse. Toad Suck is the name of a location near Conway, AR, home of the writing department at the University of Central Arkansas. The Review publishes a mix of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, translations, and reviews, and it leans toward the experimental without veering into excessively weird. Unique enough to distinguish itself from the crowd of literary journals while still being accessible, TSR is a solid choice for collections of contemporary literature.

Steve Black for many years was LJ’s magazine reveiws columnist, He is a Serials and Reference Librarian at the College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY.

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  1. Trish Hagood says:

    Good article. Thanks for the mention.